BY ETHAN FORMAN STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — DANVERS — Democratic state Rep. Ted Speliotis has once again fended off a challenge from Republican Danvers Selectman Dan Bennett in the only contested state representative race on the North Shore.
Speliotis won in a district that can often lean to the right. Unlike the 2010 race, the vote totals were not close.
How the North Shore Voted: House of Representatives, 13th Essex District
“I’m very happy,” Speliotis said in an interview. “I think that really the numbers are better than I even expected because I know how difficult it is, I know how difficult a district I represent, I’m fortunate,” Speliotis said. “I think the vote shows that we did what we had to do. I said at the beginning of the campaign that this is an opportunity to explain to the voters what we did over the past two years, and we did that.”
Speliotis, who has roots in Peabody and whose family moved to Danversport when he was 10, has represented the 13th Essex District since 1997. He triumphed over Bennett despite the addition in the district of a precinct in Middleton, a town that normally leans Republican. According to Speliotis’ aide, Bill Bates, the town voted down the line for Republicans on Tuesday, with the exception of Speliotis.
Speliotis, 59, said hard work and a grass-roots campaign paid off in Middleton.
“I think since it was the first time it’s been in the district, for this particular election. ... I think we did a very effective job of introducing ourselves in the town,” Speliotis said, “but like I said, there is a long way for them to get to know me better.”
Bennett, in the days leading up to the election, had even passed out a postcard to voters in Middleton picturing him standing with state Rep. Brad Hill, R-Ipswich, who, because of redistricting, has a district that no longer includes this portion of Middleton.
Speliotis serves in a powerful position on Beacon Hill as co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, which helped broker a compromise on the Right to Repair legislation that gives access to consumers and local auto shops. That work on that issue and others was recognized by voters, Speliotis said.
“It’s a wipeout,” Bennett said, standing in the kitchen of his home on Page Street surrounded by supporters and family shortly after 8 p.m. Bennett, 62, a self-employed real estate broker, was an unlikely candidate this year, given that he entered the race at the last minute, running a sticker campaign in the Sept. 6 primary to get his name on the general election ballot. This condensed a normally eight-month campaign into eight weeks.
In 2010, fewer than 500 votes separated Speliotis and Bennett, as Speliotis survived a wave of anti-incumbent fervor favoring Republicans and an open revolt from some members of the Danvers Board of Selectmen.
This time, Speliotis beat Bennett in Danvers 8,605 to 5,372 in unofficial results. It was a margin of victory of 62 percent to 38 percent. Speliotis won in all precincts in town. Turnout in Danvers was heavy, with nearly 77 percent of the town’s 18,965 voters turning out.
According to numbers posted by Speliotis’ campaign, Precinct 2 in Middleton broke big Speliotis’ way, 1,176 to 925. Speliotis also won in West Peabody, with Ward 6 casting 3,241 votes for Speliotis and 1,627 votes for Bennett. Speliotis also won in Ward 5, Precinct 2, in West Peabody by 957-366.
Speliotis thanked those at a gathering at the Polish Club in Danversport who worked on his campaign, saying that there was more work to be done on such issues as the housing of homeless in budget motels as temporary shelter.
Bennett threw himself into the campaign after declining to run for the Republican nomination due to selectman and commitments to the Kiwanis.
“Everybody did a great job, and it is what it is,” Bennett said. “Given, being a presidential year, makes a big difference. There’s a lot of people who only vote every four years. Those people don’t know the local issues.” Many times, they only vote for an incumbent.
When asked if his candidacy made an impact on the issues, Bennett said: “I know it made an impact. Those are issues we are concerned about, and there are still issues we have to take care of.” Bennett said state Sen.-elect Joan Lovely of Salem is also concerned about the homeless in motels and the need for transitional housing, and said he hopes to work with her as a selectman.
“I am only thinking about tonight,” Bennett said when asked if he planned to run for selectman in the spring when his term is up.
Speliotis, at his victory party, thanked his grown daughters, Pia and Ashley, and noted that his granddaughter, Kayla Marie, at 13 months now knows to automatically wave at passing cars as her grandfather does on the campaign trail.
“She is the most recognizable 1-year-old in Danvers right now,” Speliotis said of his granddaughter, who graced his campaign literature.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.